In the wake of growing pressure on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a shadowy right-wing group dedicated to pushing a conservative agenda at the state level -- and the exposure of its agenda and tactics, will local media finally acknowledge its influence on state politics when reporting on new legislation?
The Guardian reported on December 3 that ALEC has lost the membership of "almost 400 state legislators" and the funding of "more than 60 corporations" due to the organization's connection to controversial "stand your ground" laws, which received scrutiny following the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. In an effort to rebuild those relationships, ALEC is holding its States & Nation policy summit in Washington, D.C., this week. The event includes Republican legislators such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as several governors.
Legislators and businesses from around the country will gather to discuss this year's model legislation, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy has highlighted, will run the gamut of policy areas including legislation "opposing U.S. consumers' rights to know the origin of our food," "undermining workers' rights," "stripping environmental protections," and "limiting patient rights and undermining safety net programs." The last category includes legislation to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, similar to the proposal that Ryan has offered in his budget proposals.
State and local media outlets in the past have often neglected to identify ALEC-influenced legislation and failed to report on their state legislators' involvement with the group. A new wrinkle proposed this year by ALEC, however, directly affects state legislators. The Kansas City Star highlighted a document that was published by The Guardian that, although not adopted, would have required state chairs to take a loyalty oath: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first." As Star columnist Barbara Shelly wrote:
What? These are elected officials. They are to put the interests of their states and constituents first. Apparently at some level people realized that, because the draft job description was never adopted. But the very suggestion demonstrates ALEC's eagerness to control these lawmakers.
As legislative sessions begin next year, will state media outlets begin to question legislation offered by their state representatives, especially those who are known to be members of ALEC? Will state media outlets question their ALEC state chairmen about the loyalty oath and whether they are putting the interests of ALEC interests above those of their state and constituents?
ALEC's renewed push has essentially given local media a second chance to identify ALEC's influence in their states and potentially identify the corporate interests behind several pieces of legislation affecting their readers.
Local North Carolina newspapers cited two right-wing sham think tanks and published op-eds by their staffs while often failing to note their connections to the state's Republican party and to a major conservative donor.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal claimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is hurting employment by forcing businesses to shift workers to part-time to avoid offering health insurance. However, substantial evidence proves that the ACA is not having any widespread impact on employment patterns.
In a November 25 article, the Review-Journal claimed the large service industry of Nevada would be hit hard by the health care law's mandate to count employees working more than 30 hours a week as full time -- the threshold for which employers must begin offering health insurance benefits to employees -- because it will give employers an incentive to cut worker hours to avoid offering health insurance:
So local businesses and unions alike want to know: What's another tweak or two?
They've set their sights on proposed federal laws that would change an Obamacare provision on who gets health insurance through work. The rule says employees who work more than 30 hours a week qualify as full-time, and employers have to offer them insurance or risk fines of $2,000 to $3,000 per worker. The rule applies to any company with more than 50 full-time-equivalent workers.
The threshold is causing unintended consequences as employers cut hours to drop workers below the 30-hour threshold.
That could be a huge issue in Las Vegas, with its high share of hourly service jobs in hospitality and restaurants, said Shaun O'Brien, assistant policy director for health and retirement for big labor group AFL-CIO. And with average weekly hours worked coming in at 33.7 in August, according to local research firm Applied Analysis, plenty of locals hover close enough to the threshold to cross it.
The article quoted Randi Thompson, the Nevada state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), to bolster the claim that the ACA will force employers to cut hours. However, as the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR) reported, Thompson's own organization conducted a survey that concluded the opposite. According to the survey by NFIB, only 13 percent of small businesses surveyed would cut employees or employee hours as a result of the law. Furthermore, the survey found that these decisions to "reduce employee hours seem strongly tied to profitability rather than ACA."
In support reduction in hours argument, the article referenced a survey sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce that found that franchised businesses have "already cut hours more than a year before the employer mandate." However this survey was conducted by Pulse Opinion Strategies, a known Republican polling firm and, according to an NFIB researcher, still doesn't prove the ACA is creating a part-time workforce:
The numbers contrast with a survey released two weeks ago by the National Federation of Independent Business finding that only 13 percent of 921 small companies plan to cut hours. The NFIB, like the [International Franchise Association] and the Chamber [of Commerce], thinks people working less than 40 hours shouldn't count as "full-time." But the group admitted that its numbers don't show Obamacare creating a part-time workforce. Many of those planning to cut hours were too small to be subject to the mandate, anyway. "If they cut or were cutting, it's almost assuredly due to the profitability rather than the ACA for those people," NFIB researcher William Dennis said.
These findings have been backed up by economists as well. In his analysis of the ACA's effect on weekly hours, economist Dean Baker explains that while some employers may reduce hours to avoid providing coverage to employees, "the number is too small to show up in the data." Furthermore, few work near the 30-hour full-time cutoff:
An analysis of data from the Current Population Survey shows that only a small number (0.6 percent of the workforce) of workers report working just below the 30 hour cutoff in the range of 26-29 hours per week. Furthermore, the number of workers who fall in this category was actually lower in 2013 than in 2012, the year before the sanctions would have applied. This suggests that employers do not appear to be changing hours in large numbers in response to the sanctions in the ACA.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities further explains that the number of involuntary part-time workers has decreased since the implementation of the ACA, instead of expanding as the perpetrators of the myth would lead one to believe:
A more rigorous test examines the recent trend in the share of involuntary part-timers -- workers who'd rather have full-time jobs but can't find them. If health reform's employer mandate were distorting hiring practices in the way critics claim, we'd expect the share of involuntary part-timers to be growing. Instead, as shown in Figure 1, it is down about one percentage point from its peak.
Nor do the employment data provide any evidence that employers have cut workers' hours below 30 hours a week to avoid the requirement to provide health insurance. During the first half of this year, the share of workers putting in 30 or more hours a week actually rose to 80.7 percent from 80.2 percent in the comparable part of 2012. Although the increase is small, it refutes the claim that shortening of the workweek is widespread.
The Columbus Dispatch claimed that unemployment insurance [UI] benefits create a disincentive to work to attack President Obama's recent call to extend them into 2014. However, multiple economists have found that unemployment benefits are not disincentives to work during economic downturns, and that not extending them will hurt the economy and result in job loss.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch said Republican "political arguments" should not be blamed for the initial failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the GOP's goal of obstructing of the law, hindering its rollout.
In a November 25 editorial discussing the ACA's rollout, the editorial board claimed that "political arguments" and "Republican boilerplate against the ACA" did not contribute to the failures of the rollout. From the Times-Dispatch:
Although President Barack Obama has accepted responsibility (sort of) for Obamacare's disastrous start, he continues to point fingers at others.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes that Obama has whined about Republicans and the press. He has implied that GOP demands to repeal the Affordable Care Act have undermined the program's efficiency. Oh? Political arguments have no bearing on the mechanics of running Obamacare. Republican boilerplate against the ACA did not contribute to the fiasco. Conservatives may be reveling in the aftermath, but they did not cause the systemic failures.
The editorial fails to note the multiple instances of Republican obstructionism that have led to some of the problems with the law's implementation. As a November 1 Politico article noted, one of the causes of the flawed rollout was "calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step." The piece continued:
From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court -- which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up their crusade past the president's reelection, in a pattern of "massive resistance" not seen since the Southern states' defiance of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
The opposition was strategic from the start: Derail President Barack Obama's biggest ambition, and derail Obama himself. Party leaders enforced discipline, withholding any support for the new law -- which passed with only Democratic votes, thus undermining its acceptance. Partisan divisions also meant that Democrats could not pass legislation smoothing out some rough language in the draft bill that passed the Senate. That left the administration forced to fill far more gaps through regulation than it otherwise would have had to do, because attempts -- usually routine -- to re-open the bill for small changes could have led to wholesale debate in the Senate all over again.
The New Hampshire Union Leader promoted a plan that would use Medicaid expansion funds available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) not to expand Medicaid to cover more of New Hampshire's poorest residents, but to subsidize private insurance plans. However, under this plan, people would potentially pay higher premiums for their private plans or be left without health insurance.
In a November 17 editorial, the Union Leader advocated for using Medicaid expansion funds to extend New Hampshire's practice of providing subsidies for private insurance policies and mocked legislators who warned that this approach could leave consumers vulnerable to price hikes due to lack of marketplace competition:
That is why Senate President Chuck Morse's plan to use Medicaid dollars to subsidize private insurance for qualified Granite Staters is such a great proposal. He called the Democrats' bluff. Now they are throwing up every objection that they can, even ones that undermine the party's position on Obamacare.
State Senate Republicans had proposed moving newly Medicaid-eligible Granite Staters into subsidized private insurance plans purchased on Obamacare's state insurance exchange, and doing that by 2015. Last week Democrats hilariously complained that this was "unworkable" (Gov. Maggie Hassan's word) because there is no competition on New Hampshire's exchange, which is serviced by only Anthem and Delta Dental.
By pushing for Morse's proposal, the Union Leader failed to take into account two major impediments to the Senate plan. First, a special waiver must be proposed by the state and approved by the federal government before Medicaid funds can be used for private insurance. Knowing this could be a lengthy process, other states that have taken this route have already submitted proposals for approval. The Senate plan backed by the Union Leader forecasts only one year for federal approval, and would end expansion efforts if the plan had not been approved by the end of that year. A different proposal by the House also recommends using Medicaid expansion funds to offer private insurance subsidies, but that plan does not foresee moving people to private plans for at least three years.
The second problem with the Senate plan is the lack of competition in the state exchange marketplace. With only one provider on the marketplace so far, New Hampshire's exchange is not competitive enough to make the Senate private subsidy plan viable, nor does it have the time to grow competition before the Senate plan would be implemented. According to the Boston Globe:
Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny cautioned the Senate panel that its timeline is ambitious. Sevigny said he has not heard of any companies preparing to enter the marketplace as the Senate plan envisions in 2015 to join the lone provider, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The House plan rejected by the editorial is deemed more practical, because it would only shift Medicaid funds to private insurance if three providers are competing on the exchanges. According to Forbes, competition is vital to keeping prices low and quality of care high:
In the future, to stay competitive, insurers will need to increase value for their customers. They'll do so by including in their networks only those physicians and hospitals that provide higher quality at a lower cost. This will require providers to improve the processes and outcomes of the care they deliver.
This shift in competition will begin a virtuous cycle. The lower cost, higher-quality insurance plans will attract more people. A growing membership base will give them greater leverage to demand increased efficiency, higher quality and superior outcomes from doctors and hospitals in their networks. This, in turn, will result in further market-share growth as more consumers see the value.
As the Concord Monitor further explained:
Implementing Obamacare and expanding access to Medicaid, let alone doing so under an as-yet unwritten plan that requires federal approval, is enormously complicated. Almost every part of every endeavor is in flux. So without getting into the deep weeds, the sticking point is this: The governor and the House want the people newly eligible for Medicaid to be able to obtain coverage under the standard Medicaid programs now being overseen by three managed care companies until at least 2017 before shifting them to private plans with what amounts to a voucher to subsidize the cost. The added time could allow players other than Anthem, the only insurer signed up to participate in the health care exchange marketplace, to join, thus increasing competition and lowering costs.
Almost all of Ohio's leading newspapers ignored a new poll showing that Ohioans overwhelmingly support action on immigration reform, even as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced a decision on November 13 that effectively reduced any chances at reform this year.
A poll conducted by Harper Polling on behalf of three pro-reform organizations -- including one that counts News Corp (Fox News' parent company) president Rupert Murdoch as a co-chairman, and another that exclusively supports GOP candidates -- found that 74 percent of Ohio residents surveyed feel the immigration system is broken and that another 72 percent support an immigration proposal with a path to citizenship. The poll also found that 68 percent of respondents support a plan that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants and citizenship to those who were brought to the country illegally as children.
On November 13, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the only major daily Ohio newspaper to report these findings, despite Boehner's pronouncement that day that he would refuse to allow negotiations between the House and the Senate on an immigration reform bill. As the Washington Post noted, the decision dealt "a significant blow to the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform by this Congress."
MediaTrackers Ohio attempted to distort local media coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by using badly flawed comparisons to claim the ACA's exchanges will lead to "sticker shock" for Ohio residents. MediaTrackers' analysis applies to a small slice of Ohio consumers and doesn't take into account important parts of the law.
Local media looking at MediaTrackers' effort should note several omissions in their reports:
As part of its analysis, MediaTrackers published several articles comparing the costs of insurance premiums for plans on Ohio's federally run ACA exchange to quotes for plans at eHealth.com, an online marketplace that allows people to shop for insurance. MediaTrackers looked at costs for 27-year-old women and men and 50-year-old women and men. In all the scenarios, MediaTrackers compared "Obamacare 'Gold' plans from [the Department of Health and Human Services] and existing policies with similar deductibles listed at eHealth."
As The New York Times explained, all health insurance plans starting on January 1 must include essential benefits from 10 health categories meaning consumers are not forced to purchase insurance through the exchanges in order to qualify under the ACA and can purchase private insurance if it is cheaper for them.
However, even using MediaTrackers' scenario, it is misleading to present today's plans and the new ACA-compliant plans as equal. Replicating MediaTrackers' scant methodology as closely as possible, the cheapest current plans do not have several of the health benefits required under the ACA. For example, picking the cheapest plan on eHealth.com in Columbus, Ohio, with a $1,500 deductible will allow a 27-year-old man to pay around $100 per month, but it will not include mental health, substance abuse, oral, or vision care -- all benefits required under the ACA.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal promoted several myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) including that men will have excessive coverage, that young people will not sign up for insurance on the exchanges, and that heavy Medicaid enrollment will jeopardize the exchanges.
Several local media outlets published editorials and opinion pieces highlighting and praising CBS' faulty 60 Minutes Benghazi report. Now that CBS has apologized and withdrawn its report, will local media follow suit?
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report highlighting comments from security officer Dylan Davies, who went by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones" and said that he was an eyewitness to the September 12, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. After several inconsistencies surfaced in Davies' statements about the evening, CBS pulled its report, apologized to viewers, and said it would "correct the record" on the next edition of 60 Minutes.
Immediately following the 60 Minutes report, various local media outlets across the country published editorial and opinion pieces hyping the report and heralding it as evidence that President Obama and his administration were lying about the attacks. At least six local media outlets, including The Columbus Dispatch, The New Hampshire Union Leader, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Washington Times, The Charleston Post and Courier, and The Boston Herald, all hyped the CBS report with one outlet calling it a "damning report" while another said the administration's "coverup [is] being exposed." Pittsburgh Press writer Jack Kelly published a piece in the Post-Gazette claiming the report was "noteworthy for the new information provided -- in particular the interviews with 'Morgan Jones' and [Lt.] Col. [Andrew] Wood."
The 60 Minutes report reinvigorated the widely debunked myth that there are "lingering questions" about the Benghazi attack and continued to push a right-wing media narrative that the Obama administration has engaged in a cover-up in response to the attacks. The pervasiveness of the myth even hit Congress as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to hold up presidential nominations until questions surrounding Benghazi were answered.
Now that CBS has retracted its report, will local media outlets who also injected this misleading myth into their opinion pages do the same, or will they continue to rely on debunked information that misleads their readers?
The New Hampshire Union Leader argued against a proposal to expand Medicaid in the state and instead advocated for using the federal expansion funds to enact a voucher system. However, numerous studies have found that traditional Medicaid provides more coverage for less cost.
In a November 6 editorial discussing a state initiative to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the Union Leader claimed that Medicaid offered few health benefits and denounced the low reimbursement rates for doctors. The editorial went on to suggest that Medicaid expansion dollars should fund a voucher system:
Studies of Medicaid enrollees show that the program improves health care access, but not measurable health outcomes. And because it pays doctors and hospitals a fraction of what it actually costs for treatment, it does not solve the problem of cost-shifting. Nonetheless, there is pressure to expand eligibility from the state's current 63 percent of the federal poverty level to the Obamacare-demanded 138 percent.
[Sen. Chuck] Morse [(R)] and [Sen. Jeb] Bradley [(R)] have proposed a better way. Rather than throw people onto Medicaid, they would use Medicaid funding to enhance the state's premium support program. Low-income families would get better-quality private insurance, which pays full hospital and doctor reimbursement rates. And unlike straight Medicaid expansion, eligible people who are already privately insured would not be lured onto Medicaid.
Contrary to the Union-Leader's assertion that Medicaid doesn't show "measurable health outcomes," a study of Oregon's 2008 Medicaid expansion published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that while certain health outcomes were not achieved -- such as lowering cholesterol and hypertension -- expansion had other benefits such as lowering rates of depression and increasing the rate of diabetes detection and treatment.
Moreover, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has argued that expanding Medicaid is a key strategy to improving women's health, as Medicaid "is the largest payer of pregnancy services, financing between an estimated 40% and 50% of all births in the United States, and family planning services, accounting for 75% of all public expenditures."
Reimbursement rates under Medicaid expansion will increase as a result of the ACA, a fact the Union Leader failed to mention. As part of the law, provisions were included to raise rates so that doctors are more likely to accept new Medicaid patients. Rates will increase across the country by an average of 73 percent according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and in New Hampshire, rates are expected to increase 50-99 percent:
In lieu of support for Medicaid expansion, the editorial advocated for a plan proposed by state Sens. Morse (R-Salem) and Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) that would use Medicaid expansion funds to further expand the state's voucher program. Yet, as Kaiser Health News explained, it is inherently cheaper to enroll more people in Medicaid than to give them subsidies for private insurance. Since HHS requires voucher programs like Morse-Bradley's to provide Medicaid-level benefits, the voucher program would promote more expensive plans but offer identical benefits to Medicaid. Furthermore, according to a study appearing in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Medicaid offers better protection against underinsurance -- measured as out-of-pocket health care cost over 5% of income -- than basic minimum plans that low-income individuals can afford on the private market:
Greater than one-third of low-income adults nationally were underinsured. Medicaid recipients were less likely to be underinsured than privately insured adults, indicating potential benefits of expanded Medicaid under health care reform. Nonetheless, more than one-quarter of Medicaid recipients were underinsured, highlighting the importance of addressing cost-related barriers to care even among those with public coverage.
The New Hampshire Union Leader hyped a report on insurers discontinuing policies to accuse President Obama of lying about existing health coverage, despite evidence which shows that health care coverage isn't being canceled as the Union Leader suggested and the decision to transition beneficiaries was made by insurance companies, not the president.
The October 29 editorial relied on a NBC report that said the administration was aware of the fact many in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, and asserted the president was "lying" when he said "if you liked your health insurance, you could keep it":
When President Obama said in 2009 that if you liked your health insurance, you could keep it, he was lying. This was no secret. It was pointed out repeatedly at the time. U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., an orthopedic surgeon and professor of medicine, did a whole Republican weekly radio broadcast on it back then.
Price and others pointed out that Obamacare created strong incentives for insurers to cancel people's coverage. That is exactly what has happened -- just as the Obama administration knew it would.
As NBC News reported on Tuesday, "the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them."
First, the idea that consumers are having their policies cancelled is misleading. As the Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR) explained, an insurance company discontinuing a policy is not anything new and the term "policy cancellation" is a "misnomer." These plans are not being cancelled, rather insurance companies are "exercising [the] option to discontinue the policy at the end of the contract year."
Currently, insurance companies generally have year-long contracts with consumers. At the end of the contract, companies can decide to no longer offer a specific policy -- which has nothing to do with the ACA. As CHIR further explains, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), individual policies are "guaranteed renewable" but insurance companies can "increase premiums, increase cost-sharing, and/or reduce the scope of benefits covered." The ACA allows companies to continue offering plans that do not meet minimum standards -- known as "grandfathered" plans -- if they were created before March 23, 2010. Yet, as ThinkProgress reported, given the naturally high turnover rate among individuals enrolled in the individual marketplace, it is highly unlikely individuals would be enrolled in the same plans from 2010 in 2014.
As Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post explained, the number of grandfathered plans has steadily reduced since ACA's passage because insurance companies view them as a "dead end." She explained: "They can't enroll new subscribers and are really constrained in their ability to tweak the benefit package or cost-sharing structure," so many companies have instead made the business decision to drop the plans instead of retaining that coverage for their consumers.
Therefore, the Union Leader's accusation that the president lied about people being able to keep their coverage ignores the fact that under the law, people who liked their insurance could keep it, so long as their insurance company decided to retain that policy. Understanding changes in the insurance marketplace, the administration did predict that insurance companies would likely drop grandfathered plans. However, the changes to insurance plans are actually much better for consumers, as they will now have access to more complete coverage and access to tax credits that could result in lower premiums.
Prior to the ACA, private health insurance was referred to as "Swiss cheese" coverage because insurers could create policies with policy holes that would never pass employee benefit standards. These inferior insurance plans have failed customers in the past and helped inspire the minimum benefit coverage under the ACA, including a prohibition against increased premiums due to illness and the ability to get insurance even with a pre-existing condition. According to the CHIR:
For most people shopping on the marketplace, the policies available there will be a better value than anything they have been able to buy on the individual market. First, they will no longer have to worry that if they get sick, their insurer will jack up their premium - that's prohibited under the ACA. Second, many will be eligible for premium tax credits to make their plan more affordable. And, as noted above, all the plans will meet minimum standards for benefits and cost-sharing - no more swiss cheese coverage.
As the Department of Health and Human Services explained in a release, six out of 10 Americans who enroll in coverage on the exchanges could find plans that cost less than $100 per month, all that include the 10 essential health benefits mandated by law.
The New Hampshire Union Leader promoted a CBS report that rehashed a long-answered "question" on the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, claiming the Obama administration knew the facility was a target and chose to ignore warnings, despite evidence and testimony to the contrary.
The October 28 editorial applauded a 60 Minutes report for "expos[ing] the coverup" and echoed its claim that the administration had been "warned repeatedly" that the Benghazi mission would be attacked:
This past Sunday, "60 Minutes" aired a report on Benghazi that was a year in the making. It showed, among other things, that the security contractor hired to run the mission's unarmed guard team had warned repeatedly that the mission would fall to an attack because the armed Libyan guards could not be trusted. A Green Beret commander based in Tripoli had warned Washington that al-Qaida was preparing to attack Americans in Benghazi and the only option was "leave Benghazi or you will be killed." Those warnings were ignored.
The White House said for as long as a week after the attack that there was no evidence it had been premeditated. But numerous people on the ground at the time knew it was a planned al-Qaida attack and told Washington that.
However, the State Department's investigative review body, the Accountability Review Board, found no clear evidence of intelligence that could have been used to prevent the attack:
The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11attacks. Known gaps existed in the intelligence community's understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.
Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta corroborated the findings of the State Department in Senate testimony. Appearing before the Armed Services Committee in February, Panetta explained that the lack of "specific intelligence" made crafting a timely response impossible:
In response to a question from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was aware of a cable sent in August by Ambassador Stevens that said security in Benghazi was not adequate.
"Unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on that -- U.S. facilities in Benghazi," Panetta said. "And frankly without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond."
He also noted that the National Counterterrorism Center had identified some 281 threats to U.S. diplomats, diplomatic facilities, embassies, ambassadors and consulates during the six months before the attack in Benghazi.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch penned a misleading editorial to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by incorrectly claiming income-based tax credits would not be verified, that caps on co-payments have been eliminated, and that the ACA will leave future Americans uninsured.
The October 23 editorial used the slow start of the exchange websites as a launching point to discount the entire law and its provisions as a failure. The editorial pushed several claims about the law including that it drops proof-of-eligibility requirements and it will leave millions of people uninsured in the next decade (emphasis added):
[The ACA] has failed so miserably that President Obama took to the airwaves to emphasize what a wonderful success it was, despite the website issues for which he offered "no excuses" -- and took no responsibility.
Besides, he said, "the Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It's much more." Indeed it is -- and there have been many more problems than just online technical roadblocks. The administration has delayed the employer insurance mandate for a year. It has dropped proof-of-eligibility requirements for exchange subsidies. And it has jettisoned caps on out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments and deductibles. Democrats and Republicans agree that the tax on medical devices should be repealed.
The ACA is not just a website -- and the glitches are not just web-related. Even if the law works exactly according to plan, a decade from now 31 million Americans will remain uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If that is success, be afraid of what failure could look like.
The Times-Dispatch's claim that the administration had "dropped proof-of-eligibility requirements" for individuals applying for tax credits to use towards the price of health care coverage bought on the exchanges is patently untrue. In fact, a strengthened income verification measure was part of the minimal concessions given to the Republicans to reopen the government after they held the entire law hostage leading to the government shutdown.
Furthermore, according to CNN Money the current verification methods will allow the IRS to recoup any over-payments from falsified information, meaning "anyone who might get a bigger subsidy than they are eligible for will have to pay back the difference to the IRS." According to CNN Money:
The final calculation of a subsidy's size will be done after the fact by the IRS.
"Your actual tax credit will be calculated based on your actual income that next April [when you file your federal tax return]," [Kaiser Family Foundation Senior Vice President Larry] Levitt explained.
Bottom line: Anyone who might get a bigger subsidy than they're eligible for will have to pay back the difference to the IRS.
And they may owe a penalty, too, since they must attest when applying for subsidies that they are not filing false information.
"If you report your income incorrectly, it will catch up with you because there's a reconciliation of these tax subsidies on your tax return. Come tax time you could see an enormous bill," said Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center.
The Times-Dispatch editorial also claimed that the administration had "jettisoned" out-of-pocket caps or limits placed on deductibles and co-payments. The editorial frames this as a permanent provision to the ACA. However, in reality, there has been a one-year delay in the implementation of the caps to better allow insurance companies to coordinate and fine tune logistical details so that caps can be calculated accurately. According to The New York Times:
The health law, signed more than three years ago by Mr. Obama, clearly established a single overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for each individual or family. But federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs.
In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said: "We knew this was an important issue. We had to balance the interests of consumers with the concerns of health plan sponsors and carriers, which told us that their computer systems were not set up to aggregate all of a person's out-of-pocket costs. They asked for more time to comply."
Caps on out-of-pocket spending remain an important part of the ACA and will save American families billions of dollars each year. In 2011 alone it was estimated that families spent $24.7 billion more than the ACA's cap threshold.
Finally, the Times-Dispatch made the inaccurate claim that the ACA, by design, will leave 31 million Americans uninsured. The editorial states that these individuals would remain uninsured "even if the law works exactly according to plan," suggesting the health care reform measure never intended this group to gain coverage. This analysis is flawed for two reasons. First, the law assumed states would participate in the Medicaid program given the low cost and high benefit structure of expansion, which, due to Republican obstructionism has not happened, potentially leaving 6 to 7 million people uninsured. However, a second flaw in their argument is that many of the remaining uninsured people are undocumented immigrants who were barred from gaining coverage thanks to strong Republican opposition and the lack of Republican support on current immigration reform measures.
Right-wing media misinformer Watchdog.org is pushing fabricated myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into the media discussion, stoking fears the program will lead to higher premium costs and create incentives for people to avoid marriage. In reality, tax credits have kept premiums affordable for young people and have not created fiscal deterrents to marriage.